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The best PDF editors in 2021

Best PDF editors: Woman using phone
(Image credit: Uriel Mont at Pexels)

The best PDF editor software doesn't just allow you to edit PDFs, but also to read them, add notes and annotations, collaborate on them with others, and export them in a range of formats. 

Beyond this, a PDF editor should be straightforward to use, function smoothly, and the results should be pixel-perfect, with the minimum of glitches and bugs.

In this post, we've gathered together the six best PDF editor apps available today. Number one on our list is Adobe Acrobat Pro DC , available for Windows and Mac, which we consider the best PDF editor available overall. However, if you're looking for a free PDF editor, or a PDF editor for iPhone, iPad, Android or Linux, we've got you covered there as well. 

For more help navigating documents, see our best e-signature software guide, or create your own with our top InDesign alternatives.

The top 3 PDF editors today

1. Adobe Acrobat Pro: £15.17/$14.99 per month

1. Adobe Acrobat Pro: £15.17/$14.99 per month
Download the best PDF editor right now and get a super-reliable solution for accurately reading and editing PDFs. You can try the seven-day free trial and then sign up with a single-app or All Apps subscription with Adobe Creative Cloud.

2. Xodo PDF Reader: Free  for personal use

2. Xodo PDF Reader: Free  for personal use
Xodo is a cross-platform PDF reader and annotator, and it's absolutely free to download. You can also collaborate on documents, as well as sign them. If you want to use it for business or commercial use, you'll have to pay for a licence, though.

3. PDFpen: $19.99

3. PDFpen: $19.99 $6.99
The best PDF editor for iOS enables you to add your signature, text and images to a PDF document on Apple devices. You can fill out forms easily, and there's an app for your iPhone or iPad, which you can download right now. 

The best PDF editors in 2021: in full

Best PDF editor: PDF appearing on different devices

(Image credit: Adobe)

01. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

The best PDF editor overall.

Developer: Adobe
Available for: Windows, Mac
Free version: No
Free trial for paid version: 7 days
Reasons to buy
+Accurate PDF creation+Advanced editing tools+Strong security tools
Reasons to avoid
-Requires subscription

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is the best PDF editor app overall, whichever platform you’re using. In other words, it's both the best PDF editor for Windows 10 AND the best PDF editor for Mac. (Note, though, that this tool should not be confused with Adobe Acrobat Standard DC, which is a little cheaper but lacks some of the Pro version’s features and is also for Windows only.)

Acrobat Pro is the most reliable when it comes to accurately reproducing your original content in PDF form. Anyone who’s ever tried to turn a web page into a PDF, and been left with a cluttered mess of text and images, will know exactly what we mean. It makes it easy for clients and collaborators to add comments and electronically sign documents, plus there are a host of security features, allowing you to password-protect your PDFs, remove metadata, and redact specific sections where necessary.

You can automatically compare two versions of a PDF to review all the differences between them. You can turn scanned documents into editable, searchable PDFs. And you can validate and fix PDFs for ISO and accessibility standards, too.

With all these features, the interface can be a little cluttered, and there may be a bit of a learning curve, particularly if you’re new to PDF editors. But for anyone creating and editing a lot of PDFs, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

There are two ways to buy and download Adobe Acrobat Standard DC. The first, and cheapest, is a single-app subscription. However, the best value option is an All Apps Creative Cloud subscription, which gives you access to a huge range of creative tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator. For more details on pricing and the different options, read our article download Adobe Acrobat.

Best PDF editor: Promo web page for Xodo

(Image credit: Xodo)

02. Xodo PDF Reader

The best PDF editor for Android

Developer: Xodo
Available for: Android, iOS, Windows, Chrome, web
Free version: Yes
Free trial for paid version: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Free +Solid editing features +Auto-syncs with cloud apps
Reasons to avoid
-Can be laggy

We’ll keep this simple: Xodo PDF Reader is not only the best PDF editor for Android, but it’s also available for other platforms, and it's free. So these are three very good reasons to download it and give it a try. 

Don’t be fooled by the name: this is not just an app for reading PDFs, but lets you create and edit them as well. The app also allows you to open Microsoft Office, PowerPoint and Excel files for using your Android phone or tablet, and save them as PDFs. You can also write directly on a PDF, highlight and underline text, fill in forms, sign documents and take notes on blank PDFs. Your edits can be auto-synced with Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. And you can annotate PDFs with others in real time, too. 

Optimised for tablets and phones, Xodo is also available for iOS and Windows, integrates nicely with a sibling Chrome app, supports stylus use, and is compatible with Adobe Acrobat and other PDF viewers supporting standard PDF annotations. Thumbnail previews and a Recent Files list make it easy to find the right document. And we also appreciate the Night Mode for reading in low light conditions. Depending on the device you use it on, Xodo can sometimes be a bit laggy. But given that it’s free, it’s certainly worth trying out at least.

Best PDF editor: Screengrab of PDFPenPro

(Image credit: SmileOnMyMac)

03. PDFpen

The best PDF editor for iPad and iPhone.

Developer: SmileOnMyMac
Available for: iPhone, iPad
Free version: No
Free trial for paid version: No
Reasons to buy
+Works across iOS devices+Powerful editing tools +Syncs with sibling Mac app 
Reasons to avoid
-Sibling Mac app expensive

Apple is all about the ecosystem. So a PDF editor would be no good if it only worked well on just one type of i-device. Thankfully, PDFpen performs brilliantly across the iOS range, making it both the best PDF editor for iPad AND the best PDF editor for iPhone.

When it comes to reading PDFs, this app lets you open, read and search them quickly and efficiently. And for iPad users, the icing on the cake is being able to view two documents simultaneously in different windows.

On to editing, and you can add highlights, freehand scribbles, notes, comments, annotations and more to your PDFs, as well as draw shapes, lines, arrows, and so on. You can move, resize, copy and delete images, import new images from your Photo Library, and add watermarks. You can automatically add page numbers, as well as correct text mistakes in the original PDF. Plus all of this comes with support for touch and a range of styluses, an eraser tool, and good wrist/palm protection.

PDFpenPro lets you sync and share everything via the iCloud and apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote. You're able to email and Airdrop your PDFs, with options including password-protection and flattening for maximum compatibility. You can save frequently used images, signatures, objects, and text in the PDFpen Library for reuse. And finally, you can sync everything with your Mac via the separate app PDFpenPro for Mac. Admittedly, the latter is is not cheap at $129, but there is at least a free trial.

Best PDF editor: Screengrab of PDF-XChange Editor

(Image credit: Tracker Software)

04. PDF-XChange Editor

The best free PDF editor for Windows

Developer: Tracker Software
Available for: Windows
Free version: Yes
Free trial for paid version: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Lean and fast +Customisable interface +Free 
Reasons to avoid
-Website design is off-putting

Want a capable PDF editor for Windows but have zero money to spend? Then we recommend PDF-XChange Editor. Despite being free, it offers all the standard features you’d expect, including the abilities to create, view, edit, annotate, and digitally sign PDF files.

It benefits from a lean and fast interface, making it easy to edit PDFs without any noticeable lag. You can customise the interface too, which is potentially very handy if you have a specific way of working, or need to do a lot of repetitive PDF editing tasks.

You can make your PDF documents searchable with OCR; convert scans and image files into PDFs; and the recognition feature supports base language packs for English, French, German, and Spanish. Admittedly the website you download PDF-XChange Editor from is a bit of a horror show, design-wise. But the app itself is nicely up-to-date and functions very impressively for a free download.

Best PDF editor: Screengrab of Skim

(Image credit: Skim)

05. Skim

The best free PDF editor for Mac

Developer: Christiaan Hofman, Adam Maxwell, and Michael McCracken
Available for: Mac
Free version: Yes
Free trial for paid version: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Free and open source +Great note-taking features +Split-screen display 
Reasons to avoid
-Not a full-featured editor

A decent free PDF editor for Mac is hard to come by. But if you’re an Apple user with no cash to spend, then the open source app Skim is a pretty good option. And it’s certainly a step up from the free Preview tool that you’ll already have installed on your machine. 

Skim is coming from a different place from other software on this list, having been originally designed to help people read and annotate scientific papers in PDF form. That said, it works well for viewing and editing all kinds of PDF, whether you want to view or edit them. 

This nifty app gives you the ability to add and edit notes; highlight important text, including one-swipe highlight modes; make snapshots for easy reference; create navigation systems using a table of contents or thumbnails; and turn your PDFs into professional looking presentations, with built-in transitions.

Skim also offers split display, allowing you to view two parts of the same document at once. Plus it comes with some smart cropping tools, a magnification tool, automatic download of remote PDFs and support for Apple Remote Control Interaction with LaTeX, SyncTeX, and PDFSync. 

The interface isn’t particularly user-friendly, and essentially this is more a PDF reader and note-taker than a full-featured editor. But what it does, it does very well indeed, and all for free. 

Best PDF editor: Promo for Libre Office featuring closeup of fountain pens

(Image credit: Adobe)

06. Libre Office

The best PDF editor for Linux.

Developer: The Document Foundation
Available for: Linux, Mac, Windows
Free version: Yes
Free trial for paid version: N/A
Reasons to buy
+View and edit PDFs+Range of export types+Free and open source
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly basic features

Most Linux distributions feature a PDF viewer but not necessarily a PDF editor. For that, we recommend Libre Office Draw: a suite of productivity tools that include all the standard features for viewing and editing PDFs.

Your main go-to here will be the Draw tool, a vector graphics editor which enables you to open and PDF files, make simple edits and changes, and add text, images and text boxes. 

Once you’re done, you can export your PDFs as other file types if you wish. Other options include adding a watermark, setting the compression level, adding permissions and encryption, and adding a digital signature.

The loading of PDFs can take a little time, and Libre Office’s PDF editing tools are basic compared to the other apps on this list. But it’s free, easy to use, and covers most PDF editing needs without the need for expensive software.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.